Managing Human-wildlife Conflict through community engagement

By Rebecca Ikachoi

Imagine waking up one morning to find your cattle killed by a lion, leopard or hyena, or worse, sustaining serious injuries while trying to protect your livestock from a predator attack. This is an everyday reality for the communities living in the Maasai Mara landscape. The frequency of these grievous occurrences begs the question: do human-wildlife conflicts (HWC) happen due to the community’s inability to coexist peacefully with wildlife, or are the majestic carnivores partly to blame? More importantly, can we ever solve these conflicts or are our competing interests and needs too big for this challenge?

Traditional approaches to managing HWC, such as financial compensation, use of physical barriers, and translocation interventions, among others, have proven ineffective due to their focus on wildlife conservation while neglecting community needs. As a result, Nature Kenya is promoting alternative HWC management approaches that promote community participation and engagement in wildlife conservation, aimed at fostering coexistence between people, livestock and wildlife.

In the Maasai Mara landscape, Nature Kenya, with support from the Darwin Initiative, is implementing a number of community-led initiatives, for instance, the livelihood improvement program. Local communities in Mara are highly dependent on livestock rearing. The high wildlife density makes them vulnerable to HWC, leading to significant loss of livelihoods. This informed the need to diversify livelihood options to minimize over-reliance on livestock rearing. The aim is to improve community livelihoods by encouraging safer onfield herding practices, improved household livestock protection and promoting sustainable nature-based enterprises like beekeeping.

Nature Kenya also holds community-led discussion forums (barazas) at the village level to explore and agree on feasible solutions to managing HWC at the grassroot level. For instance, working with the communities, a guide on the best herding practices was developed. The guide is now being promoted across the landscape to reduce livestock predation incidents at the grazing fields.

The engagement of community volunteers is also pertinent to our conservation work as it enhances ecological awareness and knowledge, increasing understanding and support for conservation efforts. Community volunteers are involved in monitoring species, reporting poisoning incidents, helping with awareness-raising campaigns and recording vulture sightings, with data reported on a monthly basis. This data is essential as it guides conservation interventions within the landscape.

To better understand the needs of the communities and their perceptions of wildlife conservation, Nature Kenya recently conducted focus group discussions within selected villages across the landscape. We conducted this exercise to gauge community attitudes towards wildlife conservation, track changes in community attitudes towards wildlife poisoning and measure the adoption of previously proposed HWC mitigation interventions. The discussions, which involved men, women and youth, provide refreshingly positive feedback that engaging communities in wildlife conservation, and providing opportunities for participation in wildlife conservation through programs such as the community volunteer network, fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility towards the wildlife.

Community-centred conservation interventions are essential in promoting wildlife conservation and fostering coexistence between people and wildlife, as communities get the opportunity to share their perspectives on HWC management and propose solutions to the everyday challenges they face.

KBA in Focus: Amboseli National Park

By Ednah Kulola and Joshua Sese

Located in the footsteps of Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak, and approximately 210 kilometres southeast of Nairobi in Kajiado County, is Amboseli National Park Key Biodiversity Area. The name Amboseli comes from the Maasai word meaning “salty dust”. Amboseli N.P. is characterized by wooded savannah grassland with permanent herbaceous swamps and marshes, alkaline pools and the dry lake basin of Lake Amboseli that fills up during the rainy season.

The park is home to vast biodiversity. It is an expansive wilderness hosting five mammal and 17 bird species classified by IUCN as threatened (Critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable). The mammal species include some 1,800 endangered African Elephants (Loxodonta africana), and African Lion, Cheetah, Hippopotamus, and Maasai Giraffe. Amboseli N.P. is an Important Bird Area with over 400 species of birds, among them globally threatened species such as White-backed, Lappet-faced and Ruppell’s vultures, and Malagasy Pond Herons. It is one of the six biosphere reserves in Kenya – sites nominated by countries and recognized under UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme to promote sustainable development based on local community efforts and scientific data.

Climate change, falling pasture productivity, habitat loss, water diversion, poaching and the rising human population in adjacent communities, remain the biggest threats affecting the Amboseli ecosystem. Constant land fragmentation for commercial agriculture, settlement expansion, and infrastructural development has led to the isolation of wildlife populations and inteferences with their migration routes. Increased contact between humans and wildlife has also led to an intensification of human-wildlife conflicts. Invasive species, both native and exotic, have infested large swathes of the park’s wetlands, further impacting on its ecosystem dynamics. Illegal extraction of resources such as logging, charcoal production, and sand harvesting within and around the park have played a role in the degradation of the precious ecosystem.

A collaborative approach between government agencies, conservation organizations, local communities, and other stakeholders is essential to ensure the long-term survival of Amboseli and its biodiversity. The approach would include actions such as effective law enforcement, community engagement and empowerment, habitat restoration, sustainable land use planning, and climate change adaptation strategies. To this effect, two management plans (Amboseli National Park Management Plan, 2020-2030 and Amboseli Ecosystem Management Plan 2020-2030) were launched in 2020 and are now in the implementation stage. In collaboration with the Amboseli Ecosystem Trust and partners, the Kenya Wildlife Service has also developed human-wildlife co-existence protocols to guide response to negative human-wildlife interactions. At the moment there is a new initiative to change Amboseli N.P. to become a National Reserve managed by the County – a slow and cumbersome legal process whose outcome is unclear.

Violet-Backed Starling, the Kakuzi Affair

By Simon Odhiambo (Kenyanbirder)

Of the over 200 bird species I have spotted within the Kakuzi ecosystem in Makuyu north of Thika, the Violet-backed Starling strikes me as an interestingly beautiful bird with a unique plumage that makes its identification a walk in the park. I see them from time to time perching on the fencing posts, sometimes not bothered by my presence, most of the time hardly giving me a chance to recall their name as I am left mumbling to myself ‘… that was a Violet-backed Staling. The violet back means it is male and the other duller one that took off after him is female. I know they will be back again…’

Early this month, I noticed a male Violet-backed Starling busy collecting ‘dudus’ from the ground, grass and tree-barks. I say ‘collecting’ because it made several flights, back and forth, and each time leaving with a beak full of wriggling caterpillars and coming back with an empty beak, so to speak, for more. Of course there were occasional squabbles between it, an Abyssinian (Olive) Thrush, a Fork-tailed Drongo and the noisy White-browed Sparrow Weavers on whose territory these birds were trespassing.

On 18th February 2024 during the Sunday Monthly Bird Watch at Kakuzi, I learnt that the Violet-backed Starling is generally considered a migratory bird. ‘I see them here all the time’ was my response. ‘There are very few recordsof them breeding in Kenya’ said Fleur, as I narrated my observation.  These return-trips can then be read as the usual feeding behaviour by other birds whenever they have hatchlings in their nests. If this is true then this could be an interesting record at Kakuzi!

Meanwhile, a Ruppell’s Robin Chat continued singing and mimicking other birds calls, undisturbed … until the female Violet-backed Starling joined the male for a round of caterpillar collection.  There was spiteful chase that didn’t last long. The singing continued.

I consider the Kakuzi ecosystem an ecotone inviting various bird species. hence making it an interesting area to go birding.  A Black-headed Orioles call echoes from my garden, I lose my line of thought. Did I mention that all along I had my camera with me and managed to get some shots of the Violet-backed Starling?

I remain hopeful that the fledgling will soon accompany the parents for water or to be shown the feeding grounds. Fingers crossed!

2024 World Wetlands Day highlights

By David Odhiambo

The World Wetlands Day 2024 was marked on 2nd of February 2024 with the theme “Wetlands and Human Wellbeing”. Nature Kenya collaborated with nine community groups to mark the day.

In the west, Friends of Dunga Site Support Group engaged with the local community in awareness creation on conservation of wetlands at Dunga Beach, reaching over 1,230 people, including 800 school children. Kakamega Environmental Education Programme organized 256 community members and stakeholders at Chirobani Primary School to plant 1,000 assorted indigenous tree seedlings along River Shitiya. And Kanyaboli Ecosystem Site Support Group reached out to 89 people in awareness creation towards conserving the Lake Kanyaboli ecosystem in Yala Swamp.

At the lakes, Lake Elmenteita Community-based Organization partnered with Lake Elmenteita Serena Camp to celebrate the day. Eleven volunteers from the SSG conducted a clean-up, collecting about 9 kg of waste. The SSG also shared the importance of the lake as a habitat for Lesser Flamingos, Great White Pelicans and other waterbirds with the local community. At Lake Ol’Bolossat, the Nyahururu Bird Club engaged 700 people to plant 850 tree seedlings.

At the Coast, the Sabaki River Conservation and Development Organization engaged 166 people, including 70 school children, to plant 1,500 mangrove seedlings and collect about 200 kg of waste in a beach clean-up exercise at the Sabaki River Mouth. The Mida Creek Conservation Awareness Group organized a bird walk to mark the day; and the Dawida Biodiversity Conservation Group in Taita Hills planted 30 tree seedlings.  In Tana River Delta, the Tana River Conservation Network marked the event in Tana River and Lamu counties. Poems, traditional dances, speeches and clean-ups were part of the proceedings during the events. More than 240 people were reached, including 139 school children.